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Bill legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky passes out of Senate committee

Posted at 11:17 AM, Mar 14, 2023

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Medical marijuana advocates could not believe what they saw happen in Tuesday's Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee.

After more than a decade of attempts, advocates finally got to make their case in a Senate Committee. And the committee sided with them, passing Senate Bill 47 on an 8-3 vote.

"I'm in shock right now," said longtime legalization advocate, Eric Crawford.

"I'm...I'm at a loss for words," said C.J. Carter, the Kentucky State Director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana.

The Kentucky House has passed a medical marijuana bill twice since 2020. But the bills have died in the Senate without much action. So, Tuesday's action represented progress for advocates. Especially because they flipped one of the legislature's most vocal opponents of medical marijuana: Sen. Damon Thayer.

"I have been a longtime opponent of legislation relating to marijuana," said Thayer. "I came into this body 20 years ago with a strong set of core beliefs. I grew up in the 1980s during a very strong anti-drug culture. If you're a pot smoker and you're looking for me to help get the camel's nose under the tent so you can smoke your pot legally in Kentucky, I'm not your guy."

But "a narrow approach" to medical marijuana is something that Thayer says he can support. "For the sake of those who suffer, I vote yea," he said.

Senate Bill 47 is a narrow approach, according to Sen. Stephen West, the bill's sponsor. For example, no smoking is allowed in the bill. And it gives the state nearly two years to develop a medical marijuana program.

“Providers will know exactly who’s getting what and how much," he explained.

"And if you’re having heartburn about this bill, implementation with this is not set until Jan. 1 of 2025," added West. "We’re giving the cabinet a long time to enact regulations and put those into place. Those will be reviewed, and we will be back in session before implementation. "Tuesday's action has renewed advocates' hope.

"I wanted to scream yay, yay, yay," said Crawford.

"Like a little kid in the candy store, this was a great day," said Carter. "Great day for the residents. Great day for patients. It's a great day in Kentucky history." SB 47 will be eligible for a vote on the Kentucky Senate floor on Thursday, at the earliest. Rep. Jason Nemes, who has sponsored medical marijuana legislation in the past, believes if the Senate passes the bill, the House will be able to give it final passage before the legislative clock runs out at the end of the month.

During an interview with reporters, Nemes got teary-eyed talking about the importance of creating a medical cannabis program in Kentucky.

"For the countless people that this will help, how can you not be emotional?" he said. But not everyone is on board with the idea. The Family Foundation spoke against SB 47, worrying that medical marijuana is a slippery slope toward full marijuana legalization. The group also raised concerns about marijuana falling into the wrong hands.

"Other states' attempts to legalize medical marijuana have revealed unintended consequences, such as easier access to children," said Michael Johnson, a policy advisor for the group. But advocates like Crawford told lawmakers that the bill would give a lot of people a better quality of life.

Crawford explained that as a quadriplegic, marijuana helps him get through the day.

"I don't want to be high. I just want to feel better," he said.

"It allows me longevity, a better quality of life, to be a better husband, son, friend, and man," added Crawford. "Surely there’s nobody on this committee who thinks I’d be better off taking opioids."

The following diagnoses are covered under SB 47:

  • Any type or form of cancer regardless of the stage.

  • Chronic, severe, intractable, or debilitating pain.

  • Epilepsy or any other intractable seizure disorder.

  • Multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, or spasticity.

  • Chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting syndrome that has proven resistant to other conventional medical treatments.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Any other medical condition or disease for which the Kentucky Center for Cannabis established in KRS 164.983, or its successor, determines that sufficient scientific data and evidence exists to demonstrate that an individual diagnosed with that condition or disease is likely to receive medical, therapeutic, or palliative benefits from the use of medicinal cannabis.


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